Institutional racism in Policing: Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick hides behind an unremitting wall of institutional racism and routine denial.

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There is a saying in British black communities that all serious accusations of systemic institutional racism are a bit like eternal truths; they both tend to start their lives as heretical blasphemies. Always denied and when eventually accepted it's with begrudging reluctance.

In Britain, there appears to be no exception to this general rule with no historical precedent of serious accusations of racism eliciting immediate acceptance and apology. Only the crudest examples of offensive racism, usually involving the use of racist language, prompts quick apology and regret. All major accusations of systemic and institutional racism are routinely denied.

And even where 'progress' is achieved Britains cultural default setting, institutional racism, is so deeply engrained into the countries cultural DNA that racism, once the political pressure is relaxed almost always snaps back to its original setting.

Of course, some progress has been made over the last 50 years. It would be churlish to suggest otherwise but in the words of the legendary reggae, compose/producer Lee Perry on his iconic tune "Down Ina Babylon" it's almost one step forward two steps backwards.

Accusations of racism are almost always denied. For black communities here in the UK, the word denial denotes don't even notice I am lying. Where policing is concerned denial is often the preface to the justification of injustice.

Having challenged institutional police racism for the last 35 years, and as one of the foremost black experts on police-community relations and a former Policing Director for London, I am going to make a confident prediction. Alas, much like an oracle, my predictive track record on these issues, is sadly hundred per cent solid being one of the many who correctly predicted the disturbances of 1981, 1986, 1996 and 2011.

My prediction is that we are heading for a significant series of civil disturbances as a result of the deteriorating relationship between the Metropolitan Police Service and London's African and Caribbean communities. It is only as a consequence of this summers Covid-19 lockdown that we've narrowly averted such a conflict taking place. For many public commentators and ethical black community leaders, people such as former senior black officer Leroy Logan (founder member of the Metropolitan Black Police Officers Association), things that they are as bad today as they were in the early 1980s.

 

Leroy Logan, pictured above.

 

They say that history comes round in 30 to 40-year cycles and next year sees the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Brixton uprisings that sparked massive confrontations with the police throughout the country. Back then despite repeated warnings by community campaigners warning of the likelihood of community police conflict, the Commissioners and government of the day chose to stick their heads in the sand. Their response was to deny the police were racist or the was a crisis of black confidence in policing. Sound familiar?

Activists of the day, people like Frank Crichlow and Darcus Howe of the Mangrove Community Association, Kaoumba Balagoun of St Pauls, Bristol, Alex Bennet of Merseyside Race Equality Council and Dorothy Kukuya, Linda Bellos the first black women leaders of a Council (Lambeth) and the young, radical campaigning lawyer of the day Paul Boateng, all consistently warned of trouble on the streets as a result of increasing police racism. All were routinely ignored.

Precisely the same thing happened again in 1986, and in the early 90s, it was only the hope offered by Stephen Lawrence public inquiry that prevented a re-occurrence. Nevertheless, disturbances erupted in 1996 in Brixton and again in 2011 in Tottenham. On both occasions, senior police officers and Home Secretaries denied there was a problem. Community activists warnings were routinely ignored at an extraordinarily high cost to the country and black communities.

Today the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Prit Patel, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick are united in the continuance of this political tradition, the consistent rejection and denial of accusations of institutional police racism. In the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd, we have seen and public institutions businesses around the world, reflecting on the nature of their commitment to race equality, embarking on a process of having a dialogue with black and ethnic minority employees and communities on issues of fairness, justice, diversity and anti-racist practice.

The global concern about the issue of police racism, violence and accountability have been central to these ongoing conversations, discussions that have echoed around the world everywhere except in England and Wales. Even though public confidence in policing of the African and Caribbean community is at an all-time low, the leading police officer in the country Commissioner Cressida Dick, like her counterparts of old, refuses to acknowledge the Mets culture of institutionalised racism.

It's this pernicious culture that is the driving force behind the persistent and increasing rates of racial disproportionality in almost all aspects of operational policing in London. Given the wall-to-wall research and statistics that demonstrate the industrial scale of police racism towards black people, the question is, why would she choose to continue to deny this overwhelming and compelling objective reality?

It is my view that the police officer "canteen culture" is deeply hostile to the concept of institutionalised racism. The 20-year long backlash against the publication and findings of the Stephen Lawrence report that deemed the police to be institutionalised racist runs deep in the cultural and political DNA of the Met Commissioner Dick cannot contemplate accepting this reality without facing a virtual revolt among the reactionary ranks.

The evidence of such resistance can be discerned not only by the figures demonstrating massive racial disproportionality in operational areas such as stop and search: use of police force on black people; racial differences in the rates of cautioning and charging for drug offences; the refusal of bail for black suspects, the failure to sufficiently recruit African and Caribbean officers; and the overrepresentation of serving black officers in police disciplinaries and investigations, it is also evident in the attitudes of police officers as revealed in an alarming new survey conducted by You Gov.

Published in June of this year with very little media coverage, this critical survey revealed the dark attitudinal underbelly of the persistent culture of racism that persists within the Metropolitan Police.

The survey asked officers if they believed stereotypes about other groups of people to be true. An astonishing 41% agreed with the statement compared to just 24% of the general public. More worryingly over half of the officers surveyed (55% ) agreed with the suggestion that human rights laws have been bad for British justice. About race equality in the workplace, 65% expressed opposition to any form of positive discrimination in attempts to level up the lack of representation of black people within British companies and institutions.

These overwhelmingly racially hostile attitudes provide a unique insight into the prevailing culture within the Met, and that makes this Commissioner a prisoner of her workforce. This, in part, explains why the Met has seen a resurgence in such prejudicial hostile attitudes among serving police officers. What we are witnessing today in this survey is the result of the Mets historical and contemporary hostility towards the Stephen Lawrence report and their retreat from the majority of its recommendations in most notably in the areas policy and performance scrutiny and diversity focus in police cadet training.

I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Met asking them to provide me with "...the total number of mandatory, probationary constable training hours solely dedicated to ethnic diversity…". The answer I received from the Met's Information Rights Units reveals the brutal extent of that retreat.

The fact is, in one of the most diverse cities on the face of the planet, there are no specific lessons for police cadets dedicated focused solely on ethnic diversity training or the critical lessons learned from the Stephen Lawrence, none. Whilst there is training for unconscious bias, it lasts precisely two hours. There is a broader one-day training input on the more general question of "diversity" covering the entirety of the equality strands. Finally, there are some online voluntary training packages.

Nothing on anti-racist policing practice or the rich and diverse history of Amylticulatutal London. Nothing on the fraught history of the Met and London's multicultural communities. This explains why institutional racism is so resurgent in the Met. Refusal to listen to communities, retreat from the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence report, failure to mainstream anti-racist practice in one of the greatest multicultural cities in the world. policy and For a city like London, this is woefully inadequate.

Police denial of institutionalised racism places a lid on the relational and emotional pressure cooker that constitutes relations between African and Caribbean heritage communities and police services. The longer we leave it on, the more pressure we build up. That pressure is becoming intolerable and will, at some point, explode onto our streets with devastating consequences.

Denial of the problem is the lid. That's why so little focus is given to this issue in police training, it's simply not considered that important by the Commissioner. This is a fatal and critical failure of leadership. Charles Tremper of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, Washington, DC, warning of the dangers of denial wrote, "Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning." The problem for this Commissioner is the routine denial of truth does not invalidate its objective reality. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

This Commissioner has made the fatal political calculation that it's better to offer friendly denial than accept the realities of institutionalised racism. She knows, as the survey suggests, that all demands for compliance to anti-racist policing practice will elicit a hostile response from the rank and file. Policing is the only area of command and control employment where such huge power is located in the lowest subordinate rank. We're in for a hellish time.

It was the 17th century English writer John Bunyan who said, "The road of denial leads to the precipice of destruction." This statement is as true today as the day it was written. Having failed to learn from the past, we are about to repeat tragic history

You heard it here first, second and third.

Lee Jasper

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